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Cadillac Times Under the Hollywood Sign

By Roy Schneider

Cadillac automobiles and Los Angeles were made for each other. Year-around motoring weather coupled with scenic attractions radiating in all directions led to extensive road building early on. By 1916 roads in the LA area were touted as the most advanced in the nation. California's first and only Cadillac distributor, Don Lee, was among those who played a leadership roll in promoting highway construction throughout the State. From the sports-minded millionaires who wintered here at the turn of the century, to the subsequent flow of wealthy tourists who came to see the sights and ended up staying, Cadillac was, from the very beginning, the Southland’s foremost luxury car.

Several decades later, the benign climate and easy availability of vintage Cadillacs had marque enthusiasts scrambling for a way to form an organization to mutually enjoy the heritage of what was then the reigning and undisputed, "Standard of the World". Hollis Weihe was the spark plug that that touched off explosive growth of what would become Region Thirteen of the fledgling Cadillac-LaSalle Club. Placing flyers on the windshields old Cadillacs parked along the streets of LA (the megalopolis is in reality comprised of several dozen contiguous independent cities), soon had the membership up to 200--at one point, it is said the SoCal Region had more CLC members than the rest of the country put together. The first major exhibition of vintage Cadillacs in the western states was staged by Hollis in September of 1961.

Cal Moxley's tenure as director of the SoCal region in the mid-1960s was noteworthy and provident. Cal energized things not only in LA, but also nurtured the newly formed Northern California Region. He formulated the annual North-South Meets (a.k.a. the All California Meet) and lead caravans of historic Cadillacs and LaSalles to places like Sequoia National Park and Asilomar on the Monterey Peninsula. Innovations such as the New Year's open house established traditions that are still observed.

Over the next decade a rhythm of Cadillac club activity developed. Paul Schinnerer, Ernie Kay, Roy Schneider, Carl Starkey, Wayne Callahan and Dan de Young all served terms as Regional Director. In California, as elsewhere, collecting Cadillacs reached fever pitch during the 1970s. Fresh restorations and previously unknown pristine originals regularly showed up at SoCal events. Around 1975, the CLC's contentious 25 year rule (in effect since 1958) was abolished, and big-fin Cadillacs began rolling into the big Southland CLC shows. It seems inconceivable nowadays, but back then over 100 vintage Cadillacs would be displayed at the huge annual, on-the-grass shows organized by Director Alan Ravitch. Man also arranged the CLC's Grand National in 1984, the first on the West Coast. Out of state dealers and collectors were always on the prowl at these SoCal events, but the locals never worried because the supply of vintage, black-plate Cadillacs was inexhaustible--or so it seemed. By the 1990s however, the non-stop exodus of local cars had cut the number of entries at our annual shows in half Nevertheless, 50 to 60 pristine and well-polished old Cadillacs, gathered in one location, is still a wondrous affair.

Region Thirteen is so spread out geographically, it defies conventional organization. Our area includes all of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties--a huge land mass with a population of perhaps 16 million. And as suburbanization continues to push our members farther apart, traffic, which was almost palatable through the 1 960s, can make it difficult to get around. As a result, regular monthly meetings are not viable, and having meets in different sectors of the region is always a priority. Typically, the region is managed by a fanatical Cadillac devotee and a supportive spouse, rather than a traditional board of directors. Tom and Joyce Tierney did the honors in the late-1980s into the 90s, followed by Jerry and Ruth Krumm.

For the past five years Roy Schneider has been at the helm of the nation's largest region (over 230 member households). This is only possible with the help of his wife Sherly and daughters Analyn, Renee and Kim, plus the volunteer spirit of many fellow members. Among the momentous Cadillac happenings that were on the SoCal calendar during the last half of the Nineties have been three spectacular auction sales that dispersed the large collections of Thomas Cadillac, Hillcrest Cadillac (Brown Museum), and Ed Cholakian. In recent years our regional group has visited most every public and private aggregation of veteran automobiles in the greater LA area--Cadillacs, we are pleased to report, are well represented in most. In 1997 we organized a three-day North-South meet in Visalia, California, which included touring the ancient mountain top forest in Sequoia National Park, and a day of activities with Chuck Jordan, GM's former design chief, and one time head of the Cadillac Studio. Unusual treats on this year's schedule include a private tour of the Getty Museum, and a visit to the new restoration shops and showrooms at San Sylmar--the fabled Nethercutt Collection. Our most popular activities, aside from the annual show, are tours of restoration shops, private collections, or a string members' garages.

Cadillac's long and celebrated commercial presence in Los Angeles still echoes throughout the city. A number of Don Lee's original locations (Don Lee was the Cadillac distributor in California from 1906 through 1949) are still standing in the downtown area including his headquarters in the Teens, the Don Lee Coach and Body Works building (formerly the Earl Auto Works), plus quite a few other older dealerships such as Lee's original 1926 Pasadena agency, and Casa de Cadillac in North Hollywood. However, the HOLLYWOOD sign may be the best iconographic reminder of Don Lee and Cadillac. The sign itself is built on the side of Mount Lee. Lee, who was also a pioneer in radio and television (got into TV in 1932), purchased the mountain in the early 1930s to erect an antenna tower for his broadcasting enterprise. Incidentally, the backup generator at the transmitter was powered by a 1934 V-16 engine.

So the next time the HOLLYWOOD sign flashes onto your screen, remember, the Cadillacs of yesteryear are still plying the lush valleys, bustling urban centers, rugged mountains, and sun-swept beach communities of California's southern coast. Our exciting new web site includes excerpts from the Crest & Wings newsletter, a calendar of local Cadillac-related events, classified ads, a chat room, archival material, and a pictorial sampling of Cadillacs and LaSalles owned by local members.

Note: Members everywhere are advised that CLC fender covers remain available from the SoCal Region. Although not often advertised, this is an open-ended project and the covers may be ordered anytime ($27.50 each or two for $45.00 post paid--available in red or blue). These deluxe, oversized, silk screened fender covers provide maximum protection for the extra long fenders on 1940s thru 1970s Cadillacs. Click here to Check them out!


Date Last Updated: March 25, 2020
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